5 New Realities That Will Determine the Future of Energy
This U.S. Climate Conference held here, COP 20, was dramatically unlike its predecessors. It opened amidst confidence that progress towards a major new agreement in Paris next year would continue and closed with a weak but formally adequate agreement that keeps the process rolling. U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern was uncharacteristically beaming. While the formal negotiating sessions rehashed old, tired arguments, mayors, business leaders and civil society rolled up their shirt sleeves and moved forward. The formal negotiations, some dared suggest, might not be the most important thing happening here.
This was the first climate summit of the post-Kyoto world; a new, and genuine, if inadequate, global climate architecture has been teed up for next year in Paris. But whether Paris serves as the foundation for steadily more ambitious climate progress, or is the marker of the reality that the world will not, whatever the costs, and however great the opportunities, break the back of fossil fuel dominance, is going to be determined by how the world community—and the climate movement—react to five new realities.
- The Kyoto era distinction between rich Annex 1 and poor Annex 2 countries no longer dominates. The U.S.-China bilateral announcement of carbon reduction commitments, and the subsequent U.S.-India-China agreement to eliminate HFC’s as a climate threat, shattered—correctly—the Kyoto era presumption that the climate crisis could be solved with the initial participation of only historically important carbon emitting nations.
- A fossil fuel based economy and a low-carbon economy are now equally plausible development model, with a clean economy a better long term bet. The costs of renewable energy globally have plummeted. Turkey would pay no more for renewables than for coal electrons. Solar power in India costs less than imported coal. More efficient cars and trucks helped drop the price of oil down from $100 to $60/barrel. Wind and solar power plants are hugely less risky and volatile than coal. Driving on electrons, not gasoline, will cost less for the rest of this century.
- New players will dominate climate policy. Increasing assertive business and global cities are forcing their way into the conversation. They see climate as an opportunity and want their share of the new pie.
- The conflict among rich and poor countries has shifted from the feared costs of clean energy—a fading issue—to who pays for climate disruption already occurring. That was the real conflict in the negotiating halls—who will pay this bill—but (see below) the world is about to find out that shifting to clean energy can also finance the losses and damages that 20 years of deadlock have left us to manage.
- The accelerating (if temporary) collapse in the global price of coal and oil creates a powerful cross current. If countries are once again lulled into shifting their focus from speeding up the clean energy transition off of coal and oil in the belief that coal and oil monopolies have now found the key to providing cheap fuel for sustained global development, the climate, security and economic price will be staggering. But if we realize that now is the time to double down on our investments in clean energy, the climate and development benefits will be exhilarating.
We’re not home free yet. Abraham Lincoln cautioned against “changing horses in mid-stream.” But I pointed out to a the World Climate Summit that session that solving the climate crisis depends on precisely such a shift—from an old, exhausted carbon economy to a new, dynamic clean energy future.
The most critical feature of next year’s Paris agreement will be the short-term, pre-2020 clean energy initiatives that nations, cities and businesses bring to the table—not the longer term (inevitably inadequate) national emission pledges that get most of the attention. What we do long term will be determined not by national promises, but by our collective actions before 2020.
We can afford boldness. For the next several years, energy importers will harvest a staggering $1.1 trillion dollars annual windfall—the difference between imported oil at $110 and at $70 a barrel. Much will flow to the U.S. and Europe, giving us the revenues to pay our accumulated climate debt. But regardless of what we do with our share of the dividend, other major beneficiaries of that windfall include poor oil importers like India, Kenya, Pakistan, China and the Philippines. India’s share alone equals 2.4 percent of its GDP.
At the same time, collapsing fossil fuel prices will scare off investors. Hundreds of billions of dollars that would have been invested in seeking new oil, gas and coal fields will be freed up. The temporarily oversupplied oil market is already stranding overpriced oil projects in places like the Caspian and Alberta’s tar sands.
This price slump is temporary. But we can make it permanent. The biggest factor in the price collapse is not 3.5 million barrels a day of U.S. shale oil but 7 mbd lowered global demand. About half that reduction is competition from biofuels, more efficient vehicles and reduced reliance on driving. (Slow economic growth drained another 3.5 mbd from demand.)
Monopoly enabled producers to charge exorbitant prices. Clean energy is creating competition. More competition—greater clean transportation market share—could keep oil and coal prices affordable while we phase fossil fuels down through 2050—but only if we foster it in the face of cheaper gasoline.
The danger is that we—and our leaders—will look at cheaper oil and coal and say, “we can relax and build markets for low carbon energy later.” If we do, oil will hit $140 in a few years, and this moment of affordable energy, potential prosperity and climate hope will be only a squandered memory.
Let’s switch horses, before the old one we have been riding founders.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›